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Cook County State's Attorney's Office claims resignations not to blame for case backlog

Cook County State's Attorney's Office: Resignations not to blame for pending cases
Cook County State's Attorney's Office: Resignations not to blame for pending cases 02:57

CHICAGO (CBS) – It's a problem CBS 2 has been digging into for months – victim's families complaining that their justice has been delayed thanks to a growing number of pending cases in Cook County.

Data obtained by the CBS 2 Investigators show more Cook County assistant state's attorneys resigned last year in any other year in the last decade. But the State's Attorney's Office said that hasn't impacted cases.

CBS 2 spoke to two mothers who have been waiting and waiting since 2017 and 2018 for the men suspected of murdering their sons to go on trial.

"It's not OK to put families on hold like that," said Tracey Brumfield.

Their cases are two of more than a quarter of a million pending in 2020. That number ticked down slightly in 2021, but it's still the highest Cook County has seen in 20 years.

"I see more and more defense attorneys demanding trial just because they know this is the only way it's going to get done," said Brian Sexton, a former assistant state's attorney.

Sexton said he's experienced the delays firsthand. He knows the office well. He was one of 74 resignations in 2016 after nearly three decades on the job.

"A guy like myself, 30 years in the office, I love my job every day," he said. "It was a great job and I don't think the state's attorneys today feel the same way and I think they're looking for something else."

Simply put, more assistant state's attorneys are leaving. From just 11 resignations in 2012, to 136 who called it quits last year, the highest in a decade.

At last check, the office had 143 vacancies. That's about 18% of all assistant state's attorney positions that the office is budgeted for. Sexton said morale is low and there's a lack of faith in office leaders.

"All that institutional knowledge is being lost," Sexton said.

CBS 2 asked the State's Attorney's Office if staffing issues are contributing to the pending caseload and the wait for families. The office said no.

"We prioritized areas that needed the most support to adjust for assistant state's attorney vacancies," a spokesperson said, adding that the office is resolving cases back to pre-COVID levels.

"COVID obviously had a big thing to do with it," Sexton said. "The Supreme Court said you couldn't demand trial during the pandemic, but for them to say staffing doesn't have anything to do with it, we know better than that."

One of those 2022 resignations was James Murphy, who in a scathing resignation email in July, after 25 years on the job, said staffing levels are at an all-time low and the office was "hemorrhaging talent."

"People are leaving in droves," Murphy wrote. "It is clear as to why. It is not because of COVID."

Sexton said the county needs to budget for more positions and the State's Attorney's Office needs to fill them.

"It's sad because I loved that office," he said.

A spokesperson for State's Attorney Kim Foxx's office said assistant state's attorney hiring is "cyclical." Since Jan. 1, they've received 116 applications for attorney positions and are in the process of reviewing them.

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